Cayman's coming 'Golden Age' requires gold-standard schools

“The Cayman model has benefited Caymanians, but it is somewhat unfortunate that it has not benefited Caymanians as much as it could have,” remarked Paul Byles, economist and CEO of First Regents Bank, during a panel discussion at last week’s Fidelity Cayman Economic Outlook.

The Cayman Islands doesn’t need to scrap its economic model, predicated on the financial and tourism industries’ attraction of overseas money and clientele. However, what Cayman does need is a dramatic and fundamental transformation of its educational model.

Indeed, the competition is only going to grow fiercer as technology continues to “shrink” and “flatten” the globe through greater interconnectedness. The increasing irrelevance of geographical location, for many businesses, could prove either boon or bane to Cayman, as employers become more flexible in where they will allow their employees to work, and employees become choosier about where they wish to live.

Although Cayman is presently positioned on the cusp of another phase of economic growth, the impending boom is not going to be like the ones that started in the 1970s. This time around, the money will come neither so easily nor so cheaply.

When Cayman’s financial sector first blossomed, our country’s leaders failed to plant the seeds to create a world-class educational system. As a result, for decades many Caymanians have graduated from public schools without ever receiving a real “education,” without having been taught critical thinking skills, or without even achieving functional literacy.

When Cayman’s luxury tourism industry began to take root, it presented a myriad of opportunities to those Caymanians who could not (or simply didn’t want to) pursue careers in accounting, law or administration. The general response was indifference, and a culture developed where for many, it is deemed more acceptable to have no job at all than one of “those jobs” (a social construct that also extends to retail and service-oriented positions).

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Now, improbably, Cayman has yet another opportunity to enact a model of sustainable growth, one that is more insulated from external forces and that empowers Caymanians to determine and direct their individual destinies.

Taking advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves in what we’ve called “Cayman’s coming Golden Age” will require nothing short of a metamorphosis of the delivery of education in Cayman, which in itself will require a total rethinking of the allocation of Cayman’s governmental budget.

Couched in martial terms, Cayman must declare war on ignorance and illiteracy, and we must do it as one country, united — not as six separate voting districts, three distinct islands, or two divided communities of “expats” and “locals.”

Collectively and with a single voice, Cayman must demand from its leaders the establishment of the best educational system possible for Cayman, one that is demanding and challenging of students, faculty, administrators and parents, and one whose results can be measured not only by test scores, but more importantly in terms of successes by school-leavers after they enter the workforce.

If we do not rise to this ultimate challenge, if we do not transform fundamentally our inadequate and underperforming school system, then any harvest Caymanians will reap from Cayman’s coming future prosperity will be enjoyed by the few, not shared by the many. Far too many Caymanians are already beggars at their own country’s economic banquet.

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  1. We’re having a terrible time, over here, in Florida, with excessive standardized testing, a flawed accountability system, and a climate of fear and distrust amongst educators and lawmakers. Beware!! Common Core Standards are NOT the answer to improving Cayman’s educational system. Balance is key in terms of testing and accountability.

  2. All very true, but not so easy to deliver it seems.

    Some simple-sounding steps

    – Value our teachers. Pay them properly. Support them in enforcing discipline in schools.

    – End the educational apartheid. Do we really think having expat kids in schools will do anything but drive up standards?

    – Encourage students to broaden their horizons, and get training and experience in the wider world which they can then bring back to Cayman.